As Wizards coach Scott Brooks’ remote press conference wound down after Washington’s win over the Denver Nuggets, a team official announced forward Davis Bertans’ media availability was about to begin shortly.
Brooks then chimed in with his own request to reporters.
“Ask him where he was in late December,” Brooks quipped.
Bertans scored a career-high 35 points in Washington’s 130-128 win Wednesday, hitting 9-of-11 shots from beyond the arc to go with his perfect line (8-of-8) at the charity stripe.
The 28-year-old is now 14-of-17 from deep in his last two games — a ridiculous hot streak that indicates Bertans’ slow start to the season may finally be over. At the very least, Brooks could joke about it.
It’s a sigh of relief for the Wizards. And Bertans, for that matter.
Bertans’ sharpshooting is why the Wizards re-signed the Latvian to a five-year, $80 million contract in November. But over the first month-and-a-half of the season, Bertans hardly looked like himself. He was out of shape. He was missing badly. And then for a stretch, he was sidelined with the virus.
Now, Bertans seems to be returning to form — a huge bonus for the Wizards, who have won three straight games and are 9-17 on the season. After all, when Bertans is on, the Wizards’ offense rises to a different level. Washington not only benefits from Bertans’ scoring, but his mere threat beyond the arc frees up Bradley Beal, Russell Westbrook and others to create offense.
“Those couples months were frustrating as (heck),” Bertans said. “Can’t sleep at night, after the game, thinking about it, because we had a lot of games that were close and I’ve taken nine, 10 shots that I would usually make at least five, six of them, and I’m going like 1 for 10, 2 for 10.
“As a competitor in my position, you kind of blame yourself a little bit.”
Bertans’ percentages to start the year were nowhere near the mark that made him one of the most accurate shooters in the league last season. Through his first 21 games, Bertans made just 33.1% of his 3-pointers — a sharp decline from last season’s 42.4%, which ranked sixth among qualified players.
The reasons for Bertans struggles were well documented. When Washington returned for training camp at the beginning of December, Bertans was late to arrive because of visa issues. That put Bertans behind and coaches soon discovered his conditioning wasn’t up to par. Bertans was already coming off a lengthy eight-month layoff — he skipped the NBA bubble to protect himself from injury and possibly jeopardize his next deal — and in his native
Latvia, he had been unable to work out properly in a 5-on-5 setting.
Brooks put Bertans on a minutes restriction to begin the year. And then in January, Bertans contracted COVID-19 — shelving him for weeks. When he returned, Bertans’ shot was still often short, leaving Bertans frustrated. After a Jan. 29 loss to the Hawks in which he went 0-of-7, Bertans spent at least 30 minutes working on his form on the near-empty Capital One Arena floor — yelling expletives at the basket as he clanked misses.
Before Monday’s win against the Houston Rockets, Bertans “could feel” a big game was coming, he said afterward. Sure enough, Bertans drilled five of his six shots from deep. The makes looked effortless, all coming off Bertans’ hand in a smooth manner — even as his body was occasionally in awkward positions after coming around screens.
Bertans’ footwork, in particular, is an underrated aspect as to why he’s a great shooter, Brooks said. Bertans excels at drawing fouls on jump shots, and that’s because of his technique. Bertans has a “quick high release” and defenders often scramble to try to close out on the jumper, Brooks said.
Against Denver, Bertans was fouled on two three-point attempts, including one late in the fourth. Bertans sank all three free throws, giving Washington a 128-125 lead with 8.8 seconds left.
“A lot of guys, they ran into him,” Brooks said. “You have to give him landing (space). … If you don’t contest these guys, they make them at a high clip. And that’s how he gets them.”
On Wednesday, Bertans did all his damage while coming off the bench. His nine 3-pointers were the most by a second-unit player since 2010.
Bertans was also one short of tying Trevor Ariza’s franchise record of most made 3-pointers in a game.
“Just the threat he carries even when he’s not shooting the ball,” center Robin Lopez said, “you have to respect that.”